We have suggested a way forward. I have read the hon. Gentleman's letter, and he will shortly receive a reply to it from my right hon. Friend.
Let us look at some of the actions which the EIS is taking, which go way beyond its response in previous disputes. The action in the constituencies of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are members of the Government is not the action of a professional body. I hope that there will be an early return to professional pride and scruples before the damage inflicted on these pupils is irretrievable. That kind of action, apart from being damaging, is completely pointless.
I was asked about the attack on the standard grade examinations for 14 to 16 year-olds—an attack which strikes at our attempts, fully supported by the education profession, to provide better and more relevant teaching which will help positively to equip youngsters of all abilities for adult life. It is particularly damaging for those pupils who are now being taught the four phase 1 standard grade subjects — English, mathematics, science and social and vocational skills. We have made it clear that those courses should continue. I have asked the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to make a careful assessment of the situation and to advise us urgently on what further measures might be taken to ensure satisfactory provision for third-year pupils who are being affected by the action.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East referred to the threatened disruption of examination procedures — for example, the withholding of the forms putting candidates forward for SCE examinations or the orders of merit which provide a ranking of candidates' expected abilities. The absence of the orders of merit is particularly unfair; without them candidates who do not perform to their true ability for compassionate, health or other reasons may not have enough evidence for an appeal against their mark. I am happy to be able to report to the House that on the latest figures there is evidence that many teachers are showing a sense of personal responsibility by not boycotting the examination procedures. I am told that by today about 80 per cent. —120,000 out of 150,000—of the forms for putting candidates forward for the exams had come to the board, and that two thirds of the marks for modern languages oral examinations had been received by the Scottish Examination Board.
The board is also discussing with the Scottish Universities Council on Entrance what account universities can take of lower performance than expected by candidates for entrance.
My message to hon. Members in all parts of the House is to think long and hard about the fundamental issues at stake in the dispute. I hope that all hon. Members will use their influence to press teachers in their own constituency to give the management side proposals within the SJNC a fair chance. I do not ask Labour Members necessarily to support the Government, but these proposals from the management side represent a reasonable way forward. I hope that we get a package to consider and that we shall get it as soon as possible. We shall consider it on its merits in the interests of everyone concerned with Scottish education.